Finished Business: Raiders crowned 3A ChampsJune 22, 2021
By COREY STOLZENBACH
INDIANAPOLIS — The pain and the anguish of the past washed away Tuesday evening at Victory Field when Southridge finally emerged victorious in its final game of the season.
The Raiders (26-7) claimed the Class 3A State Championship with a 2-0 victory over Hanover Central for their first baseball title ever. They had to deal with two state runner-up finishes in Class 2A in 2018 and 2019, and had to wait until this year for any redemption since the COVID-19 pandemic canceled the 2020 season.
"It's just life, but to come out here in our final high school game and then come out with a win, there's nothing sweeter," senior Camden Gasser said.
"For the past couple years, we've been saying 'Unfinished Business,' but now we could just say it's all finished and especially to cap this off with our senior year, this is our last sport, too," fellow senior Colson Montgomery said. "And winning our last game in our last sport, we're all just all blessed."
Southridge coach Gene Mattingly told The Herald on June 15 that he wasn't thinking about this moment, and that he'd react however he'd react if the Raiders came away with the win. In fact, he didn't see the final out because he was sweeping the dugout floor.
Yet, Mattingly feels it's not about how he reacts, but how the players react, since they're the ones who "bust their butts" and do all that is asked of them.
"I told our seniors today by themselves, I said I needed them and this program at a time in my life where my wife (Traci) and I were in a dark place after losing our daughter, Lexi," he said. "We needed them. It's not that I'm a good coach, they're great players. But I needed this program for healing, and I needed this program for purpose, and they gave it to me. And they left it all out there for me and I love them to death for it."
When the time came for Southridge to receive its medals, Mattingly immediately took his and presented it to Southridge junior Rayce Petry.
"He's been battling a back injury all year," he said. "He can't practice. He wants to be around, and so he sticks with it, and he deserved it, he works. I didn't do anything. I didn't play, I didn't hit, I didn't run, I didn't pitch. I don't need a medal. Them getting a medal is enough for me."
They got their medals following senior Ethan Bell pitching a complete game shutout against the Wildcats. Hanover Central pushed with runners on first and second with nobody out in the top of the third, but Bell got out of it without allowing them to score. He enjoyed a 1-2-3 top of the fourth and also a 1-2-3 top of the fifth, and only a two-out error in the top of the sixth prevented him from sending Hanover Central down in order for a third straight inning.
Bell's approach was to throw strikes and trust the defense behind him.
"That's what I did," Bell said. "They performed amazing and they're the reason why. It's not me, it's them, it's us as a team."
"That's just what he does," Mattingly said. "He usually doesn't get rattled. He just keeps finding a way to pound the strike zone, keep them off balance a little bit."
Bell also enjoyed redemption at the plate, too, since Southridge's offense started knocking on the door in the bottom of the third, and he came to bat with two outs, but he struck out swinging against Wildcats senior Bret Matthys.
The Raiders also had a chance in the bottom of the fourth with junior Carter Whitehead's one-out double, and he made it to third base, but senior Sam Sermersheim was caught looking, and they stranded a runner on third for the second inning in a row.
Mattingly told his players to keep grinding, to believe they can. If they didn't believe they could, they wouldn't.
Senior Chase Taylor again tried to start a rally with a two-out single in the bottom of the fifth, but Hanover Central took the bat out of Montgomery's hands by intentionally walking him, just like it did in the bottom of the third. Montgomery found this frustrating, but also treated the ordeal as a matter of respect.
There would be no repeat of the bottom of the third, as Bell connected for a two-run double down the third base line to score junior courtesy runner Carson Niehaus and also Montgomery to bring the game to its final score.
"I said, 'Ballgame,'" Montgomery said after he crossed home plate. "I was like, 'Ethan's in the zone, he's pitching his heart out. He's doing whatever it is.' And I really thought after I crossed it, I was like, 'That's game.'"
Bell told himself to not do too much, don't overswing, don't work too hard. Just put a bat on the ball and great things will happen.
This whirlwind of a journey for this team with eight seniors commemorated with joining the 1998 Class 2A girls basketball state champions, and the 2017 Class 2A football state champions. The Raiders moved up to Class 3A this year, but while they ascended a class, they also ascended to the top of the mountain at last.
"It's just a lot of ups and downs, but I'm just so, so proud of these guys and these coaches," Gasser said. "And I'm just super happy that we could go out with a win."
Mattingly told his seniors this was the last time he'd ever get to write their name down on a lineup, which was big to him. He's going to miss them dearly, but noted these players built something to make Southridge's alumni proud, and happy to be a part of.
"I'll be forever grateful," he said.
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